CM/AS(2013)4 24 April 2013
Communication on the activities of the Committee of Ministers
Address by Mr Gilbert Saboya Sunyé, Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, to the Parliamentary Assembly (Strasbourg, 22 April 2013)
It is a great pleasure for me to address your Assembly for a second time on behalf of the Andorran chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, in order to update you on the main developments that have taken place since your last part-session and on the initiatives taken or supported since then by our chairmanship.
I thank the Assembly, and you in particular, Mr President, for the constant support you have given to our chairmanship. My thanks also go to the Secretary General for his unfailing support over the past five months.
As you know, our chairmanship comes to an end in a few weeks’ time with the holding of the 123rd session of the Committee of Ministers. This event is in some respects the high point of the year for the Committee of Ministers and I call on Assembly members to use their influence to help ensure that it has the maximum number of high-level representatives and therefore high visibility.
Having made that request, I will now go through a number of political issues that regularly feature on the agenda of the Committee of Ministers.
With regard to Bosnia and Herzegovina, execution of the Court’s judgment in the Sejdić and Finci case remains a subject of concern, to which the Committee of Ministers attaches particular attention; the matter will once again be on the agenda of our meeting in late April. The Committee of Ministers has repeatedly stated that the implementation of constitutional reform is in the interests of consolidating democratic institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and that the execution of the Court’s judgment is a key factor in the country’s process of European integration.
We realise that the political and ethnic situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is extremely complex, but it is nevertheless imperative that positions evolve in a positive direction as quickly as possible so that the elections scheduled for October 2014 can take place in compliance with democratic standards recognised by the Council of Europe.
I would also like to inform the Assembly that last February, the Committee of Ministers approved an assistance programme to prepare for parliamentary elections scheduled to be held in Albania for June 2013. The programme was compiled in close co-operation with the Albanian authorities, whom I thank for their willingness and good co-operation. I hope that the implementation of that programme, and especially the assistance provided to the central electoral commission, will help ensure that the elections run smoothly.
In my statement in January, I pointed out that as part of its procedure for monitoring the honouring of commitments by Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Committee of Ministers would make visits to both countries. The visit to Armenia took place on 21 and 22 March last, while on 10 and 11 April a delegation went to Azerbaijan. The committee will now be looking at the conclusions to be drawn from those visits.
An assistance programme covering a range of fields closely linked to the rights and values championed by our Organisation has also been approved for Belarus. The Committee of Ministers hopes that the Belarusian authorities will co-operate fully in the implementation of the programme, with the support of the Council of Europe information point in Minsk.
In a very different field, I should like to give a brief overview of activities launched at the initiative of the Andorran chairmanship, which may, where appropriate, define certain lines of action for the Committee of Ministers in its future work.
Through its chairmanship objectives, Andorra sought to contribute to one of the strategic priorities identified by the Council of Europe: living together in harmony in sustainable democratic and culturally diverse societies, focusing its activities on young people, education for democratic citizenship and human rights. It also supported various activities that fell within that theme.
Last week, for example, a gathering of young ambassadors for peace was held in Andorra. That included training in mediation for young Andorrans working with young people. Andorra was keen to be involved in this pioneering Council of Europe project, which is based on the principles of non-formal education, to offer young people from conflict zones peace training and training in the values of the Council of Europe.
On 28 February and 1 March, in Andorra la Vella, the Council of Europe and the European Youth Card Association organised a European seminar on “Developing better youth mobility for young people and for Europe”. I was able to attend the seminar and noted the interest it had attracted.
In March, in Strasbourg, the chairmanship, in co-operation with the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport, or EPAS, and the Council for Penological Co-operation, or PC-CP, organised a meeting of experts on “Overview of sport in European prisons: how the penitentiary rules in relation to sport are implemented in practice”. This event brought together European experts from prisons and sporting authorities in the run-up to a political conference on sport and prisons. The Minister of Justice and the Interior, attended this meeting.
On 12 April in Strasbourg, a seminar on anti-doping was organised under the Andorran chairmanship and under the aegis of the monitoring group of the anti-doping convention. The purpose of the event was to focus action against doping on information, education and, ultimately, prevention rather than on sanctions alone, and to assess the institutional consequences that this would entail.
I should also mention that a conference on intercultural cities was held in Dublin in February. It was organised at the initiative of the Council of Europe, with the support of the Irish presidency of the European Union and the Andorran chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, represented on that occasion by the Andorran Minister for Culture, Mr Esteve Albert. The event provided an opportunity to look at successes in the inter-cultural cities programme, which offers cities a comprehensive methodology for inter-cultural integration, based on the concept of the advantages inherent in diversity.
Still in the framework of our chairmanship, but in the field of the environment, the Council of Europe held in Strasbourg, on 26 and 27 March, the 7th Council of Europe conference on the European Landscape Convention. The object was to present models of landscape policies in the states parties and the progress of work in the implementation of the convention. The Andorran chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers was represented there by our Minister for Tourism and the Environment. The event provided an opportunity for Andorra to present its national landscape strategy.
Moreover, I would like to stress that throughout our chairmanship, Andorra has made every effort to develop and strengthen co-operation between the Council of Europe and other international organisations with which it works very closely – the European Union, the United Nations and the OSCE. I have personally met representatives of these organisations to present our priorities and to contribute to the visibility of the Council of Europe.
We welcome the holding of the Council of Europe conference of Ministers of Culture last week in Moscow. Its theme was “Governance of Culture - Promoting Access to Culture”. At the conference, which the Andorran Minister for Culture attended, Ministers stressed the essential contribution that culture can make to strengthening democracy and democratic governance.
In a few days’ time in Helsinki, the Council of Europe Standing Conference of Ministers of Education will be held, focusing on “Governance and Quality Education” – a subject to which our chairmanship is particularly attentive, as you know. The Andorran Minister of Education and Youth will be present. We hope that on this occasion, the work of the two main preparatory conferences, which were held last November in Strasbourg and in February in Andorra, will bear fruit.
We sincerely hope that those two conferences will identify practical courses of action for the Council of Europe in future.
Neglecting education, culture and youth would be a serious error. We believe that these are the very essence of the Council of Europe’s role. Democracy, the rule of law and human rights are not established merely by decree; they need a sound cultural basis and can be developed only through education and awareness-raising from an early age.
It goes without saying that we shall follow with great interest the debate that you will hold on Wednesday on culture and education and on the educational challenge in Europe. We share the feeling that these debates are crucial. That is why the Andorran chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers chose to place education for democratic citizenship and human rights, as well as young people, at the focus of its priorities.
I must also mention the campaign that we launched a few weeks ago to promote reading the Convention. I invite all of you to take part in this campaign by visiting the Council of Europe’s website and sponsoring one of the Convention articles.
The European Convention on Human Rights is the very foundation of the work of the Council of Europe. Since the Convention, a large number of other conventions have been drawn. These are fundamental in promoting this Organisation, and they must be effective, spread values and be the forerunners of other international instruments. The Committee of Ministers attaches great importance to raising awareness of, and promoting, these conventions. Therefore, at the initiative of the Secretary General, it has undertaken a review of the Council of Europe’s conventions. The aim of this work is to promote the Council of Europe’s considerable achievements in this area. I congratulate the Parliamentary Assembly on its untiring efforts in this connection, as well as the Secretary General and the other Council of Europe bodies for their contributions, particularly through their dialogue with national authorities and the involvement of those authorities in the Council of Europe’s campaigns.
Many of these conventions are open to non-member states. It is up to all of us to promote the conventions so as to strengthen the protection of human rights across the globe. This is what I tried to do in my statements to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in March, as well as at the meeting organised by the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie on the same occasion. We did this together, Mr President, at the side event co-organised by the Council of Europe and the French mission to the UN in New York on the fringes of the session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women on 4 March. You were there, Mr President, with Mrs Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Minister for the Rights of Women and spokesperson for the French Government, and with the Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Mrs Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni. We explained together the main elements of the Council of Europe’s Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, more commonly known as the Istanbul Convention, and we stressed the interest that this convention has for all governments.
It is a pioneering convention that is open to non-member states of the Council of Europe, and it should become an international reference in terms of standards of protection in preventing and combating violence against women and girls. At the moment, it has been ratified by only three member states, although twenty six others have signed it. For it to enter into force, we need ten ratifications, eight of which have to be from Council of Europe member states. I am working to achieve ratification by Andorra in the course of the year, and I hope that many other states will do the same.
My country is also paying particular attention to the Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, also known as the Lanzarote Convention, which we hope to be able to ratify in the next few months. Mrs Silvia Bonet, an Andorran parliamentarian, will tomorrow present a mid-term review of the One in Five campaign.
Tomorrow I shall sign, on behalf of Andorra, the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime and its Additional Protocol, which is a follow-up to the commitments we entered into when we took up the chairmanship.
Of course, I could not end on this subject without expressing my satisfaction at the news of the outcome of the negotiations to prepare for the European Union’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights. This is a decisive step. This accession is an essential precondition for the creation of a coherent area of human rights protection in Europe. It will help to consolidate the legal systems of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights once the process to which the text must be submitted before its ratification has been completed.
An important point on the agenda of the session will be the follow-up to the Brighton Declaration. Like the three chairmanships that preceded us, and, we understand, the Armenian and Austrian chairmanships that will follow us, we undertook to ensure the following up of the decisions taken by the Committee of Ministers following the Interlaken, Izmir and Brighton conferences. In this context, the Committee of Ministers is making a particular effort to ensure the long-term effectiveness of the European Convention on Human Rights and the proper functioning of the Court.
On reform of the Court, a few weeks ago the Committee of Ministers examined the draft of Protocol No. 15, which would amend the ECHR, and more recently we examined the draft of Protocol No. 16. The two draft texts have been forwarded to you and to the Court for an opinion. We await the conclusions of the debate that your Assembly will be holding this week on Protocol No. 15, which we hope will be able to be adopted on 16 May at the Committee of Ministers’ session. We also hope that your Assembly will be able to examine the draft of Protocol No. 16 in the near future.
The third point we will discuss at the 123rd session of the Committee of Ministers concerns the Council of Europe’s policy with regard to neighbouring regions. In this context, I welcome the progress made in co-operation with the countries on the southern shores of the Mediterranean. It is particularly important for the Council of Europe to make its expertise available, with the support of the European Union, so as to provide effective assistance to those countries engaged in a sometimes difficult process of democratic transition.
I should like here publicly to thank the European Union for the extensive co-operation that it has undertaken with the Council of Europe through joint programmes. I welcome the fact that the Union has particularly focused on programmes for the immediate neighbourhood of the Council of Europe geographical area, particularly to support democratic transition in the southern Mediterranean area, as well as supporting culture and cultural diversity, education in democratic citizenship and human rights, higher education, and policies generally directed at young people.
Europe is today facing an economic crisis that threatens the very foundation and cohesion of our societies, even challenging our most basic values. In these difficult times, it is imperative to ensure that we uphold our unity on common values. It is essential to uphold the vitality of democracy, the rule of law and human rights, and to tackle the challenges of poverty, the rise in intolerance and the radicalisation of political debate. We must step up our activities to ensure that everyone can enjoy human rights throughout the continent and to remedy the loss of confidence in democratic institutions.
It is for that reason that the Secretary General, in consultation with the outgoing and incoming chairmanships, has proposed to devote the ministerial session, both its formal and informal parts, to the theme of “Democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe: strengthening the impact of the Council of Europe’s activities”. I welcome the fact that the Committee of Ministers has supported that proposal. I sincerely hope that our debates at the ministerial session will help us to identify practical solutions to these questions and the operational follow-up that will set the course to be pursued by the Council of Europe in the years to come.
I know that in all these matters the Committee of Ministers can count on the support of your Assembly, as you are also tackling these important issues and taking an active part in the thought being given to them. I can assure you that the Committee of Ministers awaits with great interest the ideas and proposals that will emerge from your debates.
Having outlined the main decisions and activities of the Committee of Ministers in recent months, I would like to express, once again, the pleasure and pride we have felt throughout this chairmanship. This pride is not mine alone; it is the pride of my whole country. Although the Andorran chairmanship is drawing to a close, I can assure you that we will remain actively committed to the values on which the Council of Europe is based and will lend our full support to the efforts of our successors.
I would like to welcome Armenia to the chairmanship, where it will shoulder the responsibilities that my country has enjoyed for the past six months. I wish it every success and strongly encourage it to pursue the efforts already begun, so that they may lead to lasting achievements.
Relations between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly are important and beneficial. Dialogue between our two bodies makes for more coherent action and helps to transform ad-hoc initiatives into specific and well-established practices. In this connection, I wish to thank you, in particular, Mr President, for your commitment and your willingness during our chairmanship to maintain these relations.